2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV video road test: Car first, electric second

November 1, 2016

It's difficult to assess just how far General Motors has come with the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV.

That's not to say that the 238-mile rated electric car from a major domestic automaker isn't an achievement. At less than the average cost for a new car in the U.S., the Bolt EV represents a significant milestone—it's the first mass-market electric vehicle with a range comparable to a normal, gasoline-powered car.

That significant achievement is fairly inconspicuous by the time you open the door and slide behind the wheel of the Chevy Bolt EV. There's no real "story" with the textured dash inserts; they don't appear to be harvested from sustainably sourced reclaimed open-source Birkenstocks. The standard 10.2-inch infotainment screen appears to be completely lacking any function with an "i" in its name—no iMeter, iGreen, nor iRobot.

MORE: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV first drive: 240 miles in an electric car

In that way, the Chevrolet Bolt EV is a car first, powered by electrons second. It's the culmination of a promise made by General Motors a few years ago, and it'll go on sale this year—likely in California first.

That the Bolt EV is an affordable electric car is noteworthy. That it acts, drives, looks, and moves like a hatchback means that we've moved beyond early adopters and into the realm of everyday commuters, which feels wholly unremarkable.

Can it be groundbreaking if it feels like every other car on the road?

Economy of style

The Bolt EV is definitely out there on the styling spectrum, but not overt about its eco-friendly mission in outward appearances. It's a relatively small hatchback in form and function—even though Chevy wants to call it a small crossover—with lashings of chrome and shapes to redirect eyes from its boxy shape. Its rear hatch has the taillights on the cargo door, rather than the rear fenders, to make the cargo opening bigger. That's efficiency beyond what's under the hood.

Inside, the Bolt EV is awash in typical materials that you'd find on most hatchbacks, including some hard plastics. There are some upscale touches: LT models make do with standard cloth, while Premier models do with leather-wrapped seating and heated rear seats. 

The interior has a pair of high-resolution displays: the 10.2-inch touchscreen and another behind the wheel that replaces a typical analog instrument cluster. Both are big, crisp, and easy to understand.

Passengers may be startled at the thin, upright seats, but they're surprisingly comfortable for four adults—or five in a pinch. Like other hatchbacks, the Bolt EV is just as usable without passengers with fold-flat, 60/40-split rear seats and more than 56 cubic feet of cargo room behind the front seats.

Fold the rear seats up and the cargo space drops to 16.9 cubic feet, including a hidden compartment below the adjustable floor that's designed to stash briefcases and backpacks from curious eyes.

READ: 2017 Chevy Bolt EV electric car: 238-mile EPA range rating, 119 MPGe combined

Energy to move

The 60-kilowatt-hour battery sits underneath the floorpan, which maximizes interior space with a flat floor. All the electric running gear is up front, including the 150-kilowatt (200 horsepower) motor that propels the Bolt EV from 0-60 in around 7 seconds. The Bolt EV is liveliest from a dead stop to 30 mph, which takes less than 3 seconds, according to Chevy. 

Of course, the numbers Chevy likes to talk about are the 238 miles of combined range on a single charge, a number we found to be accurate in various testing. 

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Driving to keep up with sometimes-aggressive traffic on multiple drives, we've managed to fall right in line with the combined number. It's possible to baby it along and exceed that range by 10 miles or so.

Up until this point, that type of range was reserved for luxury buyers willing to part with more than $70,000 for the privilege of forgetting about range anxiety. The Chevy Bolt EV achieves the same, at half the cost. 

Assuming you're not driving cross-country, the Bolt EV has the range to be driven normally like a runabout hatchback all day, with plenty of juice left for tomorrow.

The Bolt EV is programmed with a learning curve for drivers switching from gas-powered cars to electrons. Pop the Bolt EV into "Drive" and its regenerative braking is fairly subtle if you lift off the accelerator. The Bolt EV even has "idle creep" in Drive when you let off the brake without touching the accelerator—something completely unnecessary—but still speaks to the feel engineers wanted to impart to first-time EV drivers.

Drop the Bolt EV into the "Low" gear mode, and it's transformed into a more traditional EV. The regen braking is more aggressive, no idle creep, and the Bolt EV can easily be driven using the only the accelerator—true "one-foot" driving like other EVs.

Recharging a completely discharged battery—something few owners will ever do—takes about 9 hours on a standard Level 2 charger. Plugging it into a 120-volt at home overnight charges the battery much more slowly, but would be something many buyers may do to top up every night.

Our quibble: A DC Fast charger is a $750 extra on all trims, and one that we think many buyers will want because for quicker charger times and better resale.

Rare combination

Starting at $37,495 for a Bolt EV LT model, the battery-powered car still qualifies for a federal $7,500 tax credit, as well as any applicable state or local incentives. (Including access to the coveted California carpool lanes.)

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Opulently trimmed Bolt EVs can run up into the low-$40,000s, although it's clear that the car isn't a luxury hatchback. It's still a powertrain attached to a budget hatchback, albeit cost-cutting materials have been relegated to rarely seen areas or objects that aren't used daily.

Dropping the price into many carbuyers' budgets means that the Bolt EV can be considered alongside other commuters or family haulers.

The Bolt EV gives buyers a long range, the smooth and quiet operation of an electric car, and a functional hatchback for a per-mile running cost cheaper than a gasoline-powered car (depending on how much you pay for electricity).

Earlier this year, all of those qualities would have been attached to a luxury-car price tag. Now, it's available at your Chevy dealer for less than $40,000.

That's a significant achievement—and it shows how serious Chevrolet wants to be in the electric-car market—even if it doesn't wear its eco credentials on its sleeves for the world to see.

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